Job action taken by public school teachers across the province in recent weeks has included work to rule campaigns that have affected extracurricular activities including after school sports, schools clubs and in some cases, parent-teacher nights.
Such job action has raised concerns among local parents and school volunteers. One group in particular includes the parents who coordinate the breakfast and snack programs at Tillsonburg’s elementary schools.
“We are working our best at the snack program to try and accommodate all of the teachers’ requests and concerns,” said Moy Harries, co-coordinator of the snack program at South Ridge Public School. “Because there are children at that school who need that food and I will continue to keep the program running as long as I possibly can.”
Harries, who runs the snack program with Kristy West, said that although the program has changed and there are areas being affected due to ongoing job action by local teachers, the situation at South Ridge remains stable. “Any information I receive comes through the office - and any whatever discussion goes on between the teachers and the administration, I just take it and make the changes and we keep going,” said Harries.
“We have had great community and parental support with donations of cash, as well as food, help and items that we need - and so far we are good.”
One concern for Harries is the fact that the school is currently serving two food groups instead of three of the four food groups.
“There are kids in that kitchen every morning and a lot of lunch days that have no food. There are classrooms where children habitually don’t have food,” she added. “If I am forced to stop, there are kids that are going to go without food – that is my only argument to this.”
Harries said despite the concerns, the school office is doing its best to assist with the snack program at South Ridge.
“I just want the kids to get the food, so I’m trying to bend as much as I can and do whatever we can to get the food to the kids.”
Principal Paul Szorenyi said he’s worked with the program coordinators and the health unit to ensure the breakfast program continues and remains successful.
“The situation with the teachers has not affected our breakfast program,” he said. “We have made some changes - but I made those changes in consultation with the health unit and I would say that if anything, our breakfast program is maybe streamlined a bit. A little bit of the delivery is streamlined now.”
Szorenyi noted that it’s good to review any school program offered on an occasional basis and that the current delivery model has made the snack program even more efficient.
“Our breakfast program is very well received by the students and it’s very important for our school,” he said. “I’m really happy with the progress of the program and I’m really glad that we have the program.
“I think it’s working very well and I’m really happy we have the snack program because it’s such a benefit to the students and overall school climate.”
Other local schools in Tillsonburg have also noticed a few changes in their snack program due to ongoing teacher job action.
“It’s being affected a little bit but I would have to say probably not as much as I thought it would be at the moment,” said Melissa Barras, coordinator of the healthy snack program at Maple Lane Public School.
Barras mentioned changes, such as the use of zip lock bags, which have taken place at South Ridge and Rolph Street schools haven’t been implemented at Maple Lane. And despite some difficulty with volunteers in December, prior to Christmas – where the snack program was down to two days a week, Barras said things have returned to normal and the program is doing well and moving forward.
“I’m just hoping that we can keep it running for as long as we can, there’s a definite need for it in the school,” she added. “There’s a lot of kids that really rely on it on a daily basis.”
Annandale Public School hasn’t had to make any adjustments because it is more of a self-serve type of program, providing students with fresh fruit and pre-packaged items in the cafeteria each morning before classes begin.
“It’s the exact same routine and the exact same thing is offered to them. There has been no change,” said Tamara Bull, coordinator for the breakfast program at Annandale. “I run my program before school starts, mine does not involve having teacher involvement at all. In the other elementary schools we need the cooperation of teachers to help distribute the food when it arrives at the classroom in the totes. Mine doesn’t leave the cafeteria area and kids come to my program instead of me coming to them,” she explained.
Linda Nevado of Rolph Street Public School snack program noted a few small changes, but said things are running as smoothly as possible.
“We have seen a bit of a change in that we have to package our food individually whereas we hadn’t done that before,” she said.
“Before we sent it out in buckets and the teachers or some of the older children would distribute it. That’s really the only change for us, is that it has to be packaged individually now.”
Each school runs their snack and/or breakfast program either Monday to Friday or Tuesday to Friday. Rolph Street School continues to run it Monday to Friday but with the added work involved in packaging food items, Nevado said they struggle to hand out three out of four food groups to students on a daily basis.
“We’re finding that in some cases, it’s tripling the time that it takes and usually the morning is a two-hour job to get the snack out,” she said noting that combined with some volunteer issues and time constraints, it has made it difficult to provide the exact same type of snack.
“For the last two weeks of December, we got out whatever we could get out in that span of time – so if we could only get out a fruit or a fruit and milk, then we would get out whatever we could. But originally we did have usually three of the four food groups.
“I’m just hoping that it will get resolved, and our plan is just to keep it going as well as we can.”
Rolph Street Public School Principal James Bartley said the breakfast program is important for all students.
“It’s a great program. We have volunteers who staff it - they organize it and they run it,” said Bartley. “The labour disruption has not affected it. There’s been some change in routine but that’s been accommodated and things are working well.”
Bartley cited community and parental support the program receives at the school and said it plays an important role in its success.
“The end result is the kids are still getting their snacks and that’s very important,” he said. “They’re here for the kids – and whatever happens they look at how to make it work for the kids. They’ve done that from the start.”
Lynda Metcalfe is the coordinator for the Oxford County Nutrition Partnership, which oversees the snack programs in each school across the county.
“Each (nutrition) program is different – yes, they follow the same nutrition guidelines and there’s certain basic premises that happen at all schools but it’s different in all schools depending upon the circumstances within that school,” said Metcalfe. “It is a volunteer program and it is not mandatory.”
Metcalfe was unaware that Rolph Street School was packaging items separately in zip lock bags. But with regards to South Ridge Public School packaging food separately into zip lock bags she responded, “The teachers there like the individual servings and this is a new thing to South Ridge. Having said that, I can name you several schools that have always done it this way but not every school does it that way so it was a change for them.
“It’s an individual school preference and yes it does meet (Oxford County) public health requirements – we have health inspectors go into each school but also if you took for example apple slices, if that’s put into a container and has a lid on it and things go to the classroom, that also meets health standards. Many do it that way but there was a request for individual servings - they thought it would expedite the matter at South Ridge.”
The bottom line said Metcalfe is that it’s a student-based program that aims to get food to the students no matter what the situation in area schools.
“Our area as a whole - Oxford County, has been affected very little by the (work) stoppage and we have not had any school say they’re not going to do the program period – which is happening in some other areas outside of Oxford.
“I think over all Oxford County that the teachers, the principals and the volunteers - they’ve been most cooperative and supportive of continuing and realize the importance of this program for the kids,” said Metcalfe. “There is a need in all of our schools and they recognize that and they’re trying to make it the best they can for the kids."